Reopening schools is a start, but every student in America should have access to mental health professionals after two years of grappling with the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic,Â Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday.
Cardona said it’s incumbent on school districts to use American Rescue Plan funding to hire mental health staff. One of President Joe Biden’s campaign promises was to double the number of school counselors, social workersÂ and mental health professionals in schools. But Cardona’sÂ speech was light on details of how schools are to ramp up mental health supportÂ and personnel amid the national staffing crisis.
American Rescue Plan funding, critics suggested, isn’t enough.
“Our school leaders continue to burn the candle at both ends,” said Ronn Nozoe, CEO of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in a statement responding to Cardona’sÂ address. “Without immediate action to address their staffing shortages and concerns about teacher and student wellness and well-being, it will be extremely challenging to make sure these proposals actually provide the real support our communities need and deserve.”
Cardona’s vision also includes a push for increased participation in extracurricular activities, access to intensive tutoring and student loan reform. The department has forgiven about $15 billion in student loan debt since Biden took office. The federal government has paused payments on federal student loans since the start of the pandemic. Theyâ€™re expected to resume in May.
â€“ Chris Quintana and Alia Wong
Also in the news:
â–ºEven as the more contagious but less virulent omicron variant recedes across much of the U.S., it’s leaving a notable imprint: The 18.4 million infections tallied in the country so far in January represent one-fourth of the 73.2 million during the entire pandemic.
â–ºCurrent and former staffers described a “toxic atmosphere” at the World Health Organization in the Western Pacific and accused its director, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, of racist, unethical and abusive behavior, the Associated Press reported.
â–ºWashington, D.C., has extended its indoor mask mandate for public settings by a month, now set to expire Feb. 28.
â–ºThe European Medicines Agency recommended that Pfizerâ€™s coronavirus antiviral drug Paxlovid be authorized for use in the 27-nation European Union, the first time the agency has endorsed a pill for treating COVID-19.
â–ºPeople who had slight changes in their menstrual cycle after getting the COVID-19 vaccine only experienced those changes for a brief time, as a new study “reassures” there is little risk in fertile individuals getting inoculated.Â
📈Today’s numbers:Â The U.S. has recorded more than 73Â million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 878,000 deaths,Â according toÂ Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 365Â million cases and over 5.6Â million deaths. More than 211 million Americans â€“ 63.6% â€“Â are fully vaccinated,Â according toÂ theÂ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we’re reading:Â Many people with disabilities have yet to return to airports as they try to protect themselves from aÂ coronavirus infectionÂ that could either feel like a rough bout of flu or take their lives.
Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more?Â Sign up forÂ USA TODAY’s freeÂ Coronavirus Watch newsletterÂ to receive updates directly to your inbox andÂ join ourÂ Facebook group.
The school district in Orange County, Florida, said its 209,000 students will no longer be allowed to get an excused absence for failing to attend school out of concern about increased coronavirus infections.
The district, with more than 200 schools in the Orlando area, said in a Facebook post WednesdayÂ that the policy goes into effect Monday.Â
“The number of cases has continued to decline, and we continue to require face masks for adults and strongly encourage them for students,” the announcement said.Â “It is also an additional strain on our teachers as they continue to manage assignments for large numbers of absent students.”
The Orange County Public Schools website reports 19,548 infections on campuses since Aug. 2, more than 15,000 of them among students.Â
The district encouragesÂ parents to keep their kids at home if they haveÂ symptoms of illness, and offers home schooling as an optionÂ for those who don’t want their children to attend classes in person out of caution about COVID.
Only 59% of Americans think itâ€™s essentialÂ they be vaccinated against the coronavirus to feel safe atÂ public activities, according to a new poll.Â And although boosters provide significantly better protection than a two-shot treatment of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, just 47% of Americans think itâ€™s essentialÂ they get boosted.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also underscores what authorities call alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in U.S. children ages 5 to 11. Just 37% of parents consider it essential that their children are vaccinated.Â
In Minneapolis, 36-year-old public health researcher Colin Planalp faults health authorities for not making the importance of vaccinating kids more clear to the public. Planalp said he got his 6-year-old son vaccinated as soon as he could.
â€œKids can get really sick from COVID,â€ he says.
A growing number of global destinations are putting a cap on how long travelers can get byÂ with a one- or two-dose vaccination series.Â Without the booster, vacationers could find themselves facing additional entry requirements, unable to access certain venues or denied entry entirely. Starting Tuesday, U.S. travelers to Spain who had the last dose of their initial one- or two-dose vaccination seriesÂ 270 daysÂ or more before entry will need to show proof of receiving aÂ booster vaccination.Â Health experts are expecting such requirements to become more widespread as countries crack down on the spread of COVID-19.Â
“We know that being boosted gives you much better protection, both against illness and serious illness. So it’s not surprising,”Â saidÂ David Weber, a professor of medicine, pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I think this will be an ongoing trend for countries that want to limit transmission.”
â€“ Bailey Schulz
Moderna announced Wednesday that its first participant had been dosed with the company’s booster shot that is specifically targeting the omicron variant.Â The news comes a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announcedÂ plans of their own.Â Booster shots of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTechÂ vaccines have proved 90% effective at preventing omicron-related hospitalizations, according to data from the CDC.
Moderna’s study will include two cohorts: participants who previously received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, with the second doseÂ being at least six months ago, andÂ participants who have received the two initial dosesÂ as well as a Moderna booster at least three months ago.
Thursday marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp.Â Days prior to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, intendedÂ to honor the 6 million Jews and other victims of the Holocaust, anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said it was easier to live in Hitlerâ€™s Germany than todayâ€™s world with COVID-19 mandates.
â€œEven in Hitlerâ€™s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,â€ he said at a Washington, D.C., anti-vaccine rally Sunday. â€œToday, the mechanisms are being put in place that will make it so none of us can run. And none of us can hide.â€
Jewish advocacy and Holocaust awareness organizations jumped to condemn Kennedyâ€™s words, for which he later apologized. The Auschwitz Memorial called his comparisons a â€œsad symptom of moral & intellectual decay.â€ Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said his comments are â€œdeeply inaccurate, deeply offensive and deeply troubling.â€
â€œThose who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate,â€ the U.S. Holocaust Museum wrote.
Kennedyâ€™s comparisons of COVID-19 mandates to Nazi Germany are only one of many made by prominent people, including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and FOX commentatorÂ Tucker Carlson,Â over the last two years.Â